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The Evil That Lurks Undetected

Monday, February 6, 2006

By ALFRED P. DOBLIN, Editorial Page Editor
The Herald News, New Jersey

It's a sign of the times. People lie, cheat, even sexually abuse children, and then give weepy speeches of repentance, expecting the world to forgive their transgressions. Forgiving and forgetting are not the same things.

James Hanley, by his own admission, is a pedophile. He has no right to an anonymous life. And communities that want to protect their children should never forget what he has done.

Hanley, 69, is a former Catholic priest. He has been defrocked. He would like people to see him as a pathetic old man who had a drinking problem and psychological disorders. He is pathetic. He also is still a potential threat to children.

Hanley chose to interview with a reporter for The Record. Maybe that wasn't a smart move on his part, but it was good for people who live on McBride Avenue in Paterson. They now know that a pedophile lives on their street.

The Diocese of Paterson appears to have been caught off guard by Hanley's emergence in the press. If it were not for organizations such as the Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests, Hanley's neighbors might have remained in the dark until the unthinkable occurred.

SNAP may be strident in tone, but it serves a purpose. Its members have been scarred for life and they want the men who scarred them to be held accountable. More important, they want to prevent that predator from reaching another victim.

If Hanley receives a pension from the diocese, they know where he lives. They have a moral obligation to protect children. Because Hanley was never charged with a crime, he has no record of sexual abuse. But he admitted in a sworn statement to abusing 15 boys from 1968 to 1982 in several parishes. Hanley has civil rights, but there must be ways for the diocese to make communities aware of where Hanley is living.

Municipalities are creating ordinances they believe protect children from pedophiles. West Paterson and Wallington are setting up pedophile-free zones. It is feel-good, ineffective legislation.

Unless a pedophile has a criminal record and is listed on the state's Sex Offender Registry, there is no way of knowing if he (or she) is lurking in the shadows. Hanley is not an aberration. Making the predator clergy scandal worse was the fact statutes of limitation had expired, and most accused pedophiles could not be charged. These men remain out there -- free to live where they choose.

More than pedophile-free zones, communities need to increase awareness. Some of that comes from groups like SNAP that keep close tabs on the whereabouts of accused pedophiles.

It is equally important that concerned neighbors do not become vigilantes and mobs. Hanley beat the system. It's unjust, but there are no legal consequences for him, only the prospect of being hounded to his grave.

As a result of the publicity, Hanley may crawl into another house in Paterson or elsewhere in the county. More frightening, he could move far away, where the name Hanley is not synonymous with pedophile. The vicar general for the Paterson Diocese said, "I believe we do have a moral obligation to look into this." Hanley cannot be allowed to slip out of sight.

Yet, where are the others -- not just ex-clergy, but the adults who troll the Internet, skulk in the shadows of playgrounds or near schools? Pedophile-free zones are as effective as the Maginot Line was to the French in World War II. The enemy found the unprotected route.

You cannot stop what you cannot see. James Hanley is a sick old man who abused children. He sounds neither repentant nor willing to accept the consequences of his actions. He isn't the last of his line and that is truly scary.

Alfred P. Doblin is the editorial page editor of the Herald News. Reach him at doblin@northjersey.com


 



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